Diagnosis

To diagnose thrombophlebitis, your doctor will ask you about your discomfort and look for affected veins near your skin's surface. To determine whether you have superficial thrombophlebitis or deep vein thrombosis, your doctor might choose one of these tests:

  • Ultrasound. A wandlike device (transducer) moved over the affected area of your leg sends sound waves into your leg. As the sound waves travel through your leg tissue and reflect back, a computer transforms the waves into a moving image on a video screen.

    This test can confirm the diagnosis and distinguish between superficial and deep vein thrombosis.

  • Blood test. Almost everyone with a blood clot has an elevated blood level of a naturally occurring, clot-dissolving substance called D dimer. But D dimer levels can be elevated in other conditions. So a test for D dimer isn't conclusive, but can indicate the need for further testing.

    It's also useful for ruling out DVT and for identifying people at risk of developing thrombophlebitis repeatedly.

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Treatment

For superficial thrombophlebitis, your doctor might recommend applying heat to the painful area, elevating the affected leg, using an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) and possibly wearing compression stockings. The condition usually improves on its own.

Your doctor might also recommend these treatments for both types of thrombophlebitis:

  • Blood-thinning medications. If you have deep vein thrombosis, injection of a blood-thinning (anticoagulant) medication, such as low molecular weight heparin, fondaparinux (Arixtra) or apixaban (Eliquis), will prevent clots from growing bigger. After the first treatment, you'll likely be told to take warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven) or rivaroxaban (Xarelto) for several months to keep preventing clot growth. Blood thinners can cause excessive bleeding. Always follow your doctor's instructions carefully.
  • Clot-dissolving medications. Treatment with a clot-dissolving drug is called thrombolysis. The medication alteplase (Activase) is used to dissolve blood clots in people with extensive DVT, including those who have a blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolism).
  • Compression stockings. Prescription-strength compression stockings help prevent swelling and reduce the chances of complications of DVT.
  • Vena cava filter. If you can't take blood thinners, a filter may be inserted into the main vein in your abdomen (vena cava) to prevent clots that break loose in leg veins from lodging in your lungs. Usually, the filter is removed when it's no longer needed.
  • Varicose vein stripping. Your doctor can surgically remove varicose veins that cause pain or recurrent thrombophlebitis. The procedure involves removing a long vein through small incisions. Removing the vein won't affect blood flow in your leg because veins deeper in the leg take care of the increased volumes of blood.

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Lifestyle and home remedies

In addition to medical treatments, here are self-care measures to help improve thrombophlebitis.

If you have superficial thrombophlebitis:

  • Use a warm washcloth to apply heat to the involved area several times daily
  • Raise your leg
  • Use a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve, others), if recommended by your doctor

Let your doctor know if you're taking another blood thinner, such as aspirin.

If you have deep vein thrombosis:

  • Take prescription blood-thinning medications as directed to prevent complications
  • Raise your leg if it's swollen
  • Wear your prescription-strength compression stockings as directed

Preparing for your appointment

If you have time before your appointment, here's some information to help you get ready.

What you can do

Make a list of:

  • Your symptoms, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for your appointment
  • Key personal information, including a family history of blood-clotting disorders or long periods of inactivity recently, such as a car or plane trip
  • All medications, vitamins or other supplements you take
  • Questions to ask your doctor

For thrombophlebitis, basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What is likely causing my condition?
  • What are other possible causes?
  • What tests do I need?
  • What treatments are available and which do you recommend?
  • I have other health conditions. How can I best manage these conditions together?
  • Are there dietary or activity restrictions I need to follow?
  • Are there brochures or other printed material I can have? What websites do you recommend?

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, such as:

  • When did your symptoms begin?
  • Do you have symptoms all the time, or do they come and go?
  • How severe are your symptoms?
  • Have you had an injury or surgery within the past three months?
  • What, if anything, seems to improve or worsen your symptoms?
March 03, 2020
  1. Papadakis MA, et al., eds. Thrombophlebitis, superficial venous. In: Quick Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2020. McGraw-Hill Education; 2020. https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com. Accessed Nov. 14, 2019.
  2. Papadakis MA, et al., eds. Superficial venous thrombosis. In: Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2020. 59th ed. McGraw-Hill Education; 2020. https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com. Accessed Nov. 14, 2019. Requested updated citation for 2020 edition 11/8/19.
  3. Knoop KJ, et al., eds. Extremity conditions. In: The Atlas of Emergency Medicine. 4th ed. McGraw-Hill Education; 2016. https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com. Accessed Nov. 14, 2019.
  4. Papadakis MA, et al., eds. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2020. 59th ed. McGraw-Hill Education; 2020. https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com. Accessed Nov. 14, 2019.
  5. Nasr H, et al. Superficial thrombophlebitis (superficial venous thrombosis). British Medical Journal. 2015; doi: 10.1136/bmj.h2039.
  6. Brunicardi FC, et al., eds. Venous and lymphatic disease. In: Schwartz's Principles of Surgery. 11th ed. McGraw-Hill Education; 2019. https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com. Accessed Nov. 14, 2019.

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